Renowned short-seller Andrew Left and his Citron Research are taking another unpopular opinion.
In a note published a day after a bearish call on Square (SQ) , Citron announced it was bullish on what it calls "the most shorted stock in the world" by dollar volume, Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd. (BABA) . "Citron Research believes the most compelling growth story in the market is also the world's most heavily shorted stock," Citron wrote.
Alibaba, which most recently had 5.72% of its float shorted, will report quarterly earnings and fiscal year guidance on Friday, May 4. According to Citron, one of two things will happen. "Either Alibaba will exceed expectations on its quarter and guidance and could easily go over $200," or "Alibaba will show lower operating margins than 'sell side consensus' due to offensive, value creating investments which may give investors an opportunity to buy what could be the first trillion-dollar company at a cheap price."
Citron said that comparisons between Alibaba and Action Alerts PLUS holding Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) , most notably BABA's nickname as the "Amazon of China," aren't particularly suitable. Left's firm said it's more accurate to refer to Alibaba as something different altogether: "The tollbooth to middle class consumption in China," given that it is more asset-light than Amazon and has better empowered the middle-class in its home country. Alibaba trades at about a 40% discount to Amazon.
Citron's Left told TheStreet that Alibaba can do what Amazon can do "with better margins."
According to Citron, Amazon's size could be a deterrent for investors weighing the company against Alibaba. "The larger Amazon becomes, the more they must fear government interference in their business, whether it be postage, taxation or anti-trust," Citron wrote.
Left asked in an interview, "What have we learned the past month from Amazon and from Facebook Inc. (FB) ? They both run the risk of big government."
"We're not seeing that in China," Left said. "In fact we're seeing the opposite."
His comments echoed sentiments in the Citron note: "On the other hand, the Chinese government blesses the reach of Alibaba as it's partnering with BABA on key initiatives for the 'New China.'"
Plus, Citron said China "needs" Jack Ma, the CEO of Alibaba. "Jack Ma is more than a CEO, he is the face of business in China who serves as a global ambassador. Last year, he spent more time visiting foreign heads of state than Xi Jinping himself."
Plus, while Amazon's market cap is about 70% larger than Alibaba's, China's overall ecommerce market is going to soon be larger than the entire rest of the world, Citron said. By 2020, Asia is expected to account for 66% of global ecommerce sales and China alone for 58%.
Alibaba claims about 80% of all online retail sales in China, while Amazon claims about 40% to 50% of online sales in the U.S. On enormous Chinese retail holiday Singles Day last year, Alibaba raked in $25.3 billion in sales. The single day of promotion was 18 times larger than Amazon's Prime Day in the summer and about 2.5 times larger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined, Citron said.
"[Alibaba] has a lot of people to serve," Left said. "This is a [total addressable market] that we've never seen in the stock market before. The amount of people they can touch has never been seen before ... the China growth story is only in the early innings."
"Alibaba grows revenue over 20% faster than Amazon, and has much higher margins despite a more nascent cloud business that hasn't yet scaled," Citron added in the note.
Plus, Alibaba owns a 33% stake in Ant Financial, which is the world leader in mobile payments, Citron said, adding that, "It is our opinion that U.S. investors have not yet grasped the dominance of mobile payments and mobile audience in China."
Citron said Alibaba has "created a global enterprise with a footprint that includes every buzzword from artificial intelligence, cloud, datacenter, ridesharing, etc." Analysts noted that a major correction in the stock market might not lead to their expected appreciation for Alibaba, but "nothing is going to derail this company from going to $250 in the near term."
Alibaba stock gained 2% to $183.16 in Wednesday trading, implying about a 36% upside for shares should Citron's forecast come to fruition.
"[Alibaba] stock has flatlined for 9 months now, despite growing revenue over 50% throughout this time. BABA's [price to earnings] multiple has compressed by a whopping 7x over the same time period and is at its lowest level since early 2017 before the company saw an inflection in business fundamentals," Citron wrote. "The stock is a coiled spring."